The Best Policy

Later tonight, Lance Armstrong will be admitting his guilt and participation in years of lying about using performance enhancing drugs to cheat his way to 7 consecutive Tour de France titles in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. Whether or not he talks about the people he trampled, ruined, forced out off of his team, defamed, and erroneously sued along the way we don’t know yet.

We do know Armstrong has already stepped down from an active role in the largest athlete-founded charity, the foundation he helped to found, LiveStrong.   He was banned for life from cycling last August as well as been banned from competing in high profile triathlons. He has lost most, if not all, of his sponsors, like Nike, Oakley, and Anheuser-Busch.  He is facing court dates and paying back millions of dollars he obtained off the back of his lies.

 

Now the world stage is set to banish Lance Armstrong to a celebrity Elba but there is a caveat with his story.  Despite Lance’s bullying, scare tactics (he reportedly told former teammate Tyler Hamilton he would make Hamilton’s life a living hell), ego, lying, and millions of dollars earned off of massive cover-ups and lies, Lance (artificially) excelled in a sport that has more of its athletes using PED’s  than professional wrestling.  So much so, Lance’s vacated Tour de France titles could not even been given to the 2nd or 3rd place winners of those years because they failed drug tests. So in a PED sport like cycling, Lance was only keeping up with the Joneses (or maybe he was feeding them?).

And of course there is his fight with cancer in which he miraculously rose from what seemed like certain death, go on to win his Tour de France “titles”, and become a household name in a sport as popular as race-walking in this country. That name helped to make LiveStrong a charity that has raised almost a half of a billion dollars for cancer research.

Lance has also personified our idea of celebrity (in this country, sadly, that means something).  He dated other celebrities, became a national icon and ran shirtless with Matthew McCaughey every chance he got.  In a country that labeled Anna Nicole Smith, “America’s Rose”, Lance Armstrong may well have been worshipped on Sundays.

Because of this, many of us have split feelings on his final fate.  On the surface and with those who have testified about him, Lance makes Barry Bonds look like Santa Claus but if you take a moment to glance under the surface of his amorality and mob boss intimidation, you see the thousands if not millions of people he and LiveStrong have helped and inspired.

This is the quandary I find myself in as a parent.  Like most other news and happenings, I write through the lens of being a father.  And in front of me, I am reading about a man who, on the one hand is morally bankrupt (at best) but on the other is partly responsible for incalculable amounts of good.

So I am trying to find out if there is a teachable moment I can pass along to my kids in all of this.  To see if there is something salvageable I can pull from the wreckage of Lance Armstrong because part of parenting is recognizing teachable moments for our children, whether those moments come from taking out the trash to explaining why it might be ok to look past transgressions of lying and cheating.

So I ask myself, how do I balance the lessons I teach my children about the importance of being honest and (win or lose) the real value is in hard work with having to explain about Lance Armstrong?

Do I convey to my kids that somehow it was ok he cheated, lied, and bullied people because he has been able to help thousands of people fight cancer and inspire millions more?

What does it say about money and where it ranks with our values on the scale of importance?   Is there some amount of money that would or could provoke us to abandon what we know is right?

Could Lance Armstrong’s admission of guilt open the door to talking to our kids about the dangers of drug use?

His story can be a lesson in compartmentalizing.  I find myself looking at Lance Armstrong as two people.  There is the cyclist, who acted more like a mob boss than a world class athlete. Then there is the man who beat cancer and whose name and iconic status helped to create one of the largest charities in the world to battle the disease.  Can we place him in such a position?

Do we talk to our kids about having to face our demons upfront and without hesitation no matter the consequences?  Do we tell them that it doesn’t matter the good you’ve done, if you have lied and cheated, none of it matters?

In the end, however I or any other parent decides to use this moment to communicate with our kids, what is certain is before he drifts off in to obscurity and public ridicule, Lance Armstrong is going to be a point of focus.  Not for the sport of cycling or for cancer research but with our kids when we, as parents, are faced with tackling the inevitable barrage of questions about him.  Maybe there will be no new lessons gathered from any of this that we can pass along to our kids but rather old lessons to reinforce? Because there may be no end to the questions we could face and no one right way to answer them, we just need to remember something Mr. Armstrong forgot a long time ago, honesty is the best policy.

Comments

The Beginning
About jetts31

Husband, father to two girls, dog walker, living with male pattern baldness. In addition to writing on his own site, Jimmy contributes to DadsRT, COAL.com, and the Southern Berks News. He is the world record holder in his house for 'Best Hiding Spot' during Hide and Go Seek.

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Comments

  1. Jimmy, wow!
    Incredibly well written. Knowing that he was likely paid several million dollars for this interview speaks volumes of where our society places their value. I’m sure all the top talking heads were jockeying for position to have the admission of guilt during their exclusive interview. Unfortunately, this adds to story. We have accepted that it’s okay to again reward a man for lying by paying him for his confession.
    And, then, as you pointed out, there is the massive impact he created with LiveStrong…
    You have added great perspective, and great questions, to this polarizing conversation. Well done!

    • Thanks Chad. I think this moment has given all of us at least a moment of pause to reevaluate our priorities.

  2. AskAGreatDad says:

    I will never tell my children of this man and hopefully he will just fade away into obscurity. I feel this guy has masked himself and is morally bankrupt. The fact that he continued to deny every acqusation while threatening others for speaking “lies” gets to me. I undetand he was an inspiration to cancer patients, but one has to now question what caused his cancer? If my kids ask me about him, I will tell the whole story, however I do feel that he will fade away and they will never even hear of Lance Armstrong

    • Thankfully my kids don’t know him and haven’t asked about him either. I think, unfortunately, this is not the last time we’ll see him. He’s a bully, a cheat, a liar, and has been able to be the inspiration for a lot of people. Its a tough dynamic to overcome in my mind. Hopefully, when my kids ask, they’ll be old enough for me to explain all the twists to his life.

  3. Excellent post! My son is too small to ask, so I am not being confronted with his questions about Lance Armstrong. The whole thing has had me thinking though. Mostly, I am not sure what to think. Or believe. I will say that I think the good that has come from LiveStrong has less to do with Lance Armstrong and more to do with all the folks who made donations and who bought and wore the bracelets. Also, I doubt he is going to fade away into absurdity. America loves to tear people down, but we also enjoy people making a comeback. I guess only time will tell.

    • I agree, on both fronts. LiveStrong will continue and hopefully continue to thrive without his influence and I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of Lance Armstrong. He may go away for a little bit but like you said, this country loves a comeback. Especially after we’ve gotten done tearing down.

  4. Great piece. Well done.

    As you pointed out, honesty is the best policy. That is a huge issue at our house. We talk about how the truth is the the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We talk about how sometimes not saying anything is a lie. Most importantly, we talk about how integrity matters. It is who you are. How hollow the winner without integrity. He goes home with nothing of true value. How sad that this man was apparently willing to settle for that.

    Yes, he’s done a lot of good. But, he did not lie/cheat in order to be able to support charity. He did it because he thought the only thing that mattered was winning in sports. My guess is he felt compelled to establish the charity because he lied/cheated. Hopefully, he now knows he was worrying about winning the wrong race.

    • I think the charity benefited from his cheating. If he doesn’t win 7 tours in a row, doesn’t become such a household name, doesn’t get elevated to the status he did in a sport no one cares about, maybe LiveStrong doesn’t become so big. Its another angle which we could talk about for hours and still not come to a conclusion.
      I try my best to instill the value of integrity in to my kids. Everyday. And I think the more honest we are with them, they will be with us…I hope. Of course they’re still a few years away from being teenagers so only time will tell 😉

  5. You nailed it. He’s an anomaly. Singularly popular in in the USA for a sport that we don’t really care about. My kids won’t know this bozo, but I plan to teach them my values surrounding the illusion of fame and fortune. I worked in the music biz, and let me tell you, it ain’t what it appears to be on the surface, yet the youth look up to a lot of these so-called “artists” and “songwriters” who go on to donate to and found charities. I saw someone elsewhere mention interviewing Sheryl Crow. If you do a little digging on her you’ll find out that her propulsion to the top was fraught with stepping on people and taking credit for things that she didn’t do. She donates to a lot of charities. Does that mean she’s doing a good thing or does it just make her more famous while the people she cheated are left in the dust? I’ll just keep plugging away, trying to live the way I want my children to live. Mistakes will be made, but lessons in honesty will be at the head of it all. Thanks for the great piece.

    • Brandon P. Duncan says:

      Don’t forget, many do it for the right reasons, but a LOT do it for tax write-offs and image. (The image their manager wants them to have, at that.)

    • I think if we investigated the top CEO’s, celebrities, et al, we’d find out a lot of things we don’t want to know about them. I don’t think you reach those points without pushing morals and values to the side, at least temporarily.
      I’d rather my kids maintain their values and integrity rather than attaining unprecedented levels of success if it meant doing some of the things Lance did.

  6. Al says:

    You folks are missing three huge lessons from all of this that children would do well to learn
    1) there is a Faustian bargain people make with their leaders: whether its their boss, their favorite sports hero, artist or politician. You admire them for their drive but some of the same traits that allow you to get ahead in life are also labelled “sociopathic” and “narcissistic.” So admire their performance or ability to get results but do not invest your hopes in them lifting up society’s “moral fiber”

    2) following from the above point: people are complex. Not every end result they produce was the original intent. Because life is the accumulation of consequence of thousands of choices, you can’t draw a straight line between “where someone is” and “where they started out.” I mean this in the sense of most terrible things start with good intention – I want to be a great athlete….- and get twisted. Point being: True character, or Integrity, takes vigilance that few lack the courage or good fortune to be able to pursue. Whether because they need a job to support their kids (so they follow policy at work they disagree with), or exist in a place where it’s dangerous (ie deadly) to speak out. But we must aspire to keep trying while acknowledging the reasons others don’t ( rather than simply writing them off as corrupt), otherwise as soon as our kids face the first honest dilemma they might think the whole concept of Integrity is a losing/outdated proposition and opt for the “just win” path like Lance did.

    3) the concept of what “society values” is more often than not used as a placeholder for “here is something I dislike”. Society didn’t get together and decide what Oprah’s programming schedule would be, she and her execs decided to land a big scoop. They did it for the same reason you felt compelled to write about him, and the same reason everyone else here “doesn’t care about this guy” but yet took time to post a comment about him: we love to watch people “get theirs” especially people who think they are better than us..or we perceive think they are better than us. Oprah has done a lot of good, but she also had minted a lot of coin by shaming a bunch of people on her show. It’s why she was so successful, just the right balance of “do gooding” and Puritan indignant anger

    • I think you make good points and points I missed. And in a perfect world, our kids would only look at the drive and determination of athletes/performers/etc. but I think we both know that isn’t the case. It isn’t going to just be their drive or determination our kids will admire. We lose focus of those traits that are so admirable for TV appearances and Facebook pages. And I would never lable hard work and determination “narcissistic” or “sociopathic”. I would possibly label drug use, bullying, and cheating under those descriptions. Are they a product of the original determination? Possibly but that is an argument for another day (and one I am not smart enough to have unfortunately).
      I agree too that true integrity is something few lack the willpower to pursue and you’re spot on with how we approach this with our kids which is why this raised so many questions in my mind. Questions I have yet to come up with great answers to. I’m open to listening and thinking a little longer about it. However, deviating from core values to achieve a paycheck or win a race and breaking laws, bullying co-workers/teammates, and outright cheating are two seperate issues in my mind. I don’t think any of us can draw that straight line but I’d like to think, even with all the curves in my line, I don’t have any right angles.
      Thanks for the comments. You brought up points I hadn’t thought of and made me look at this through a different eye again. Much appreciated.

  7. “Society didn’t get together and decide what Oprah’s programming schedule would be, she and her execs decided to land a big scoop. They did it for the same reason you felt compelled to write about him, and the same reason everyone else here “doesn’t care about this guy” but yet took time to post a comment about him: we love to watch people “get theirs” especially people who think they are better than us..or we perceive think they are better than us.”

    Great point right there, but I would say as much as we DO like to see people get theirs, it’s more of the shameless capitalist in all of us that can’t resist grabbing their piece of the big pie that gets served up with such a polarizing story as this. We are all guilty of it as much as we are all humans.

    Also good point about what makes these extremely successful people tick is usually the same thing that makes them narcissistic. Like everything in life, there needs to be balance. Evidently, if you are unbalanced by all that it takes to become elite, it seems such things as morals and integrity are compromised on the back end.

This is what I think...

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